I am a senior, living in a small fishing community in Victoria County. I settled here 40 years ago. In that time I saw one school consolidation and may yet see another. The youth, with their energy and spirit, are a small group. There is no work here. Most of my neighbours are over 50 – we too are a shrinking number.
Health services are carrying a heavy load that the aging population will make heavier. We’re in a crisis situation more or less, we all know that.
Who is in charge? We, the residents, would say, well the government. The Department of Health holds all of us in its hands. Once people living in these remote communities depended little on doctors and hospitals. They dealt with minor issues on their own. Even birthed their own children for a long time. Laid their dead to rest.
Over the years we have become used to being looked after – so many sophisticated services out there. Health care stopped being about us – it became about them, the experts, in far-away places, and us, the patients. Government for the people, making policies and regulations on our behalf. We’ve gotten used to letters, and then lately to email, to communicate with our government. It is not very visible anymore.
A few weeks ago, I received a survey form in the mail asking for my help to improve health care in Victoria County, a survey organized by the community health board, it appeared. I was not asked about my needs and how health care filled them. Rather I needed to think of socioeconomic factors and health behaviour to answer vague questions about the health of my community. Then there were the questions about my age and gender, my ethnicity and education, my income.
Whose idea was that survey? Surely not the community health board’s – the return address is Antigonish. What was the total cost of that survey? Hiring someone to design and print it, the mailing, the meetings to discuss strategies, the need to analyze the results? What will happen to those survey results? Who will look at them? Will it make health care, and the general health of people in Victoria County, better?
I don’t answer surveys and do not like my tax dollar to be used for such a purpose. Few will answer it. One friend was outraged at the complexity of the form – why didn’t they just ask me, she wondered. My neighbour looked at it in bewilderment. Another neighbour thought – oh yes – I should fill that out, or should I? Those that do answer it will be ones comfortable with the written page, perhaps more formally educated, believing their opinion might make a difference. This is, and has always been, an oral society.
How could that money – surely over a hundred thousand – have been spent more effectively? Most ironically, there is a group of people who actually know everything there is to know about the health care in their area, every detail of those needing it and those delivering it. More than the best survey could ever hope to learn. That is the community health board members themselves. If the Department of Health really wanted to make things better it would have turned to those people to get a full and intimate picture not only of how things stand but how they could be improved.
It is the frontline and the rest of us that will face head-on whatever challenges will arise. We need leadership from our government, not just management, and a way to work together. Else there is no hope.
Bay St. Lawrence